Winning a Championship, Learning to Fail
The ball slowly rolled across the top of the net for what seemed like an eternity, and in many ways it was. The Linn-Benton Volleyball program hadn’t won a championship in its 46 year existence. Multiple Final 16 appearances, four Final Four appearances, and two crushing championship game losses. The ball finally dropped, but this time on the opposing side. In the middle of it all was Linn-Benton superstar, and 2021 NWAC Volleyball Player of the Year, Shalyn Gray. Throwing her hands into the air, Gray celebrated in a mosh pit of her teammates as they rushed the court. At the end of the 2021 volleyball season, the Linn-Benton Roadrunners raised their first championship trophy.
Growing up in the small town of Myrtle Creek, Oregon about an hour south of Eugene, Shalyn surrounded her life with sports. A three-sport athlete, she played volleyball, basketball, and softball at South Umpqua high school all under the coaching of her family. Off the court Gray is an aunt, a sister, and, “a huge Marvel nerd.” Linn-Benton Head Coach Jayme Frazier defined her as resilient, a hard-worker, and someone who leads by example.
Now in 2022, the Roadrunners sit in the middle of another historic season with a record of 21-1. Gray gives a glimpse of trying to win another championship, her fears as an individual, and how sports have taught her that it’s okay to fail.
Q: Why did you choose Linn-Benton?
I chose Linn-Benton because it’s a great school, first of all, and the volleyball team was good. My cousin was already going here so she could show me around, I could live with her, and figure out college life.
Q: How do you manage to do school and play at a high level?
It’s a lot of time management, figuring out what I need to do [on] a certain day, and how many hours I need to put into schoolwork.
Q: What does it mean to win a championship with a group of girls with whom you have such a close connection?
Winning a championship is always special, but I think it was more special because it was with that team, and we’re more family. Even off the court, we would go hang out with each other, do homework together, go out and have lunch and dinner. So it was just really special bonding, and then we got to bond over that championship. We’ll always remember that championship, but we’ll remember more of the memories together, rather than the games won.
Q: What kinds of things are the hardest for you to give up when it comes to all that you do?
Family time. Because my hometown is 2 hours away, I don’t really get to go see my parents a whole lot or my siblings, especially. I have a nephew back home now, so it’s hard not seeing him.
Q: How hard was Covid for you when it came to your everyday life?
It was tough for me. My softball season was canceled. My whole senior end-of-the-year [time], everything was canceled – didn’t have a prom, my graduation was a drive-thru kind of deal. Then going into freshman year of college, everything was online, which I wasn’t used to. That was hard because I’m better in the classroom. That season of volleyball was a year long rather than a few months, so it was tough to learn. But, it just shows that whatever happens, I can adapt through it.
Q: Is that how you describe yourself to other people? Would you say tough?
Yeah, I would say tough. If I get hurt, I usually laugh. And I’m a klutzy person, so I’m pretty easy going. I don’t really get mad easily at people. I think I’m nice. I try to be nice, it’s the right thing to do. You don’t know what people are going through.
Q: Would you call yourself a quiet leader?
Yeah, I’m not as vocal…I’m more of a lead-by-example [type].
Q: Where do you think you learned that?
I definitely learned that from my parents. My brother was my coach growing up. My mom coached me through high school, too.
Q: What does that mean for you to always have your parents as your coach?
I had to work harder than my teammates because my mom wants more from me because I’m her daughter. They always taught us to lead by example, and [to] always be humble.
Q: : What’s your biggest fear?
I’ve always been told, “don’t be scared of failure.” I am scared of failure, but I also think that helps me to succeed. I don’t want to fail in school. I want to get good grades, so I work really hard to get those good grades. Even if I do fail, I learn. So I can just try again.
Q: Where do you think you learned that? A lot of people don’t have the idea that if ‘I fail, I know I can get back up.’
I just learned that through the years in sports. Sports [has] taught me a lot, especially that. College, too. College classes are definitely harder than high school. I think that’s one thing students learn the most their freshman year; it’s harder. You’re not going to get away with just doing the minimum – you have to put in the work to actually get those grades.
Q: Who do you want to be remembered as?
I want to be remembered as a good person. Everybody wants to be remembered as a good person, but maybe just nice. I’m always supporting people if they need to talk to me. I want to be a fun teammate. A good teammate.